Heat waves in Europe are getting more dangerous IMAGEHeat waves in Europe are getting more dangerous IMAGE

Climate crisis-driven sweltering summers in Europe are now a reality that many tourists are waking up to. Interest in visiting hotter Mediterranean countries dropped in 2023 amid record heatwaves and wildfires, with more temperate destinations becoming increasingly popular, experts say.

Growing up in Texas, Mary Beth Walsh thought she was accustomed to high temperatures. Her hometown of Dallas, which is currently being blasted by unrelenting heat, frequently experiences heat waves.

But when the 21-year-old visited Athens in mid-June with her friends she was shocked by the “unbearable” 98 Fahrenheit (37 Celsius) heat she faced. “I actually had no idea about the heat that was going on until we were there, which was pretty surprising,” she told CNN.

“I always joke around that I have such a high heat tolerance; I bring my sweatshirt with me to class in August (in the US),” she said.

But the apartment she was staying in had no air conditioning and temperatures were too high during the day to explore the city on foot. “Our energy levels were lower than we thought they would be,” she said. “It felt pretty unbearable to walk in the direct heat.”

Climate crisis-driven sweltering summers in Europe are now a reality that many tourists are waking up to. Interest in visiting hotter Mediterranean countries dropped in 2023 amid record heatwaves and wildfires, with more temperate destinations becoming increasingly popular, experts say.

Recent heat-fueled deaths and disappearances in Greece, including that of the British TV personality Michael Mosley, have the potential to further fuel this northward shift, as incidents of extreme heat influence vacation decisions.

 

The degree to which the travel industry and tourists alike can adapt to the rising tide of climate impacts is becoming a bigger issue for countries in southern Europe, many of which rely on tourism to boost their economies.

Hooked on tourism

Climate change’s influence on where tourists are taking their vacations will have serious repercussions for some countries dependent on income from travelers.

In Greece, tourism contributes nearly 38 billion euros ($41 billion) – around 20% of the country’s entire economy, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.

In Italy, where level three heat alerts — the highest warning —have recently been issued for the cities of Rome, Perugia and Palermo, tourism represents 10% of the country’s economy, according to the latest figures, with one in every eight jobs linked to the industry.

Tourists in southern Europe are being advised to acclimatize before embarking on any strenuous activities in the heat.

Following Europe’s 2023 summer heat wave, which saw thousands flee from wildfires on the Greek island of Rhodes, there was a 7% rise in expression of concerns about climate change among European travelers, according to the European Travel Commission (ETC), a nonprofit association responsible for the promotion of Europe as a travel destination.

This followed a decline in interest in southern Mediterranean vacation locations between the summers of 2022 and 2023, with cooler destinations like the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Denmark becoming more appealing, ETC told CNN.

“Travelers are increasingly aware of extreme weather events and their potential impact on their vacations,” Eduardo Santander, CEO of ETC, told CNN, adding that in the future this could cause more travelers to visit southern Europe during spring and late fall instead of during the hotter summer months.

Temperatures in Greece are forecast to be between 90 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit (low- to mid-30s in Celsius) over the next couple of weeks, a few degrees above summer average, according to CNN meteorologists, except for one to two days when rain is forecast, which will keep temperatures down.

Stefanos Sidiropoulos, who runs Greece’s largest travel agency specializing in outdoor activities, said tourists shouldn’t jump straight into activities. “People that are coming from north Europe, or from Canada, places with colder temperatures, it’s more difficult for them. They need time to adapt to these conditions,” he told CNN.

Sidiropoulos’ travel agency, Trekking Hellas, now offers some activities when temperatures are lower, such as during sunrise and sunset hours. “Or at night, with torches,” he adds.

Night shift

The recent high temperatures have brought the climate crisis into sharp focus for some European vacationers.

“The climate crisis that we’ve been fearing will happen in 10 or 15 years is already here in some parts of the world. That’s the scary part,” Roo Clark, 28, from Suffolk in eastern England, who is currently staying with his girlfriend on the Greek island of Skyros, told CNN.

“Five years ago, me and my friends wouldn’t have even spoken about it (climate change), whereas now it’s more of a conversation.”

Authorities in Greece have repeatedly warned tourists not to underestimate the intense heat, especially during the middle of the day. Hiking in high temperatures has been a common thread linking recent deaths in the country.

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